Galaxy Structure and Dynamics

The research in our group focuses on understanding the dynamical structure and evolution of stellar systems. In nearby galaxies and stellar clusters, we look for the 'fossil records' of their formation by constructing realistic dynamical models that fit their photometric and spectroscopic observations in detail. The latter include integral-field spectroscopy, observed motions and properties of individual stars, as well as (strong) gravitational lensing observations.

Our individual research interests are listed below - for information, see group members' websites or look at some of our recent papers.

Group Members

Group Leader

Glenn van de Ven
Dr. Glenn van de Ven
Dynamical models of galaxies
Globular cluster dynamics
Integral-field spectroscopy
Gravitational lensing


Ling Zhu
Dr. Ling Zhu
Dynamics and dark matter distribution in elliptical galaxies and globular clusters
Modelling discrete data with Jeans models, Schwarzschild models and M2M models
Remco van den Bosch
Dr. Remco van den Bosch
Triaxial Schwarzschild models
HET massive galaxy survey
Super-massive black holes
Ronald Läsker
Dr. Ronald Läsker
black hole scaling relations
observing the stellar initial mass function
galaxy photometry and structural analysis
dynamical models and dark matter

PhD students

Akin Yildirim
Akin Yildirim
Super-massive black holes and dark matter halos in compact early-type galaxies
Lensing and dynamics in the Einstein Cross
Alex Büdenbender
Alex Büdenbender
Dark matter and the velocity ellipsoid in the Solar Neighbourhood
Axisymmetric Jeans models using SEGUE
Athanasia Tsatsi
Athanasia Tsatsi
Dynamical structure and evolution of elliptical galaxies
Paolo Bianchini
Paolo Bianchini
Stellar dynamics in quasi-relaxed stellar systems
Internal dynamics of globular clusters in the era of Extremely Large Telescopes
Wilma Trick
Wilma Trick
Constraining the gravitational potential of the Milky Way using action-based dynamical modelling

MSc/BSc students

Tomislav Grbesic
Tomislav Grbešić
Tracing dark matter with axisymmetric Jeans models


Former group members:
Laura L. Watkins (STScI, Baltimore)
Mariya Lyubenova (Kapteyn Atronomical Institute, Groningen)
Vesselina Kalinova (University of Alberta, Canada)
Sladjana Knezevic (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel)
Robert Singh
External collaborators and regular visitors:
Jesús Falcón Barroso (IAC, Tenerife)
Agnieszka Rys (IAC, Tenerife)
Jorge Barrera Ballesteros (IAC, Tenerife)
Nicola Amorisco (DARK, Copenhagen)
Wyn Evans (IoA, Cambridge)
Lorenzo Posti (University of Bologna)
Larger collaborations:
SAURON Project
SDSS-IV / MaNGA Survey
SFB881 The Milky Way System
HSTPROMO Collaboration
Meeting organisation committees:
3rd DAGAL Annual Meeting - MPIA Heidelberg - 23-27 March 2015
Gaia Challenge II - HdA / MPIA Heidelberg - 27-31 October 2014
3rd CALIFA Busy Week - Haus der Astronomie - 11-15 June 2012
Dynamics meets kinematic tracers - Ringberg Castle - 10-14 April 2012


Follow these links to a complete list of refereed and non-refereed publications from members in the group, while some recent publications (kept up to date by ADS) are given here:

Recent publications

3D view on Virgo and field dwarf elliptical galaxies: late-type origin and environmental transformations
Ryś, Falcón-Barroso, and van de Ven (2015)
A New Channel for the Formation of Kinematically Decoupled Cores in Early-type Galaxies
Tsatsi, Macciò, van de Ven, and Moster (2015)
The inefficiency of satellite accretion in forming extended star clusters
Bianchini, Renaud, Gieles, and Varri (2015)
Dwarf ellipticals in the eye of SAURON: dynamical & stellar population analysis in 3D
Ryś, Falcón-Barroso, van de Ven, and Koleva (2015)
Hunting for Supermassive Black Holes in Nearby Galaxies with the Hobby-Eberly Telescope
van den Bosch, Gebhardt, Gültekin, Yıldırım, and Walsh (2015)
Searching for intermediate mass black holes: understanding the data first
Bianchini, Norris, van de Ven, and Schinnerer (2015)
Being WISE. I. Validating Stellar Population Models and M sstarf/L Ratios at 3.4 and 4.6 μm
Norris, Meidt, Van de Ven, Schinnerer, Groves, and Querejeta (2014)
A supermassive black hole in an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy
Seth, van den Bosch, Mieske, Baumgardt, Brok, Strader, Neumayer, Chilingarian, Hilker, McDermid, Spitler, Brodie, Frank, and Walsh (2014)
Angular Momentum across the Hubble sequence from the CALIFA survey
Falcón-Barroso, Lyubenova, van de Ven, and the CALIFA collaboration (2014)
The Next Generation Virgo Cluster Survey. V. Modeling the Dynamics of M87 with the Made-to-measure Method
Zhu, Long, Mao, Peng, Liu, Caldwell, Li, Blakeslee, Côté, Cuillandre, Durrell, Emsellem, Ferrarese, Gwyn, Jordán, Lançon, Mei, Muñoz, and Puzia (2014)
The tilt of the velocity ellipsoid in the Milky Way disk
Büdenbender, van de Ven, and Watkins (2014)
Dwarf Galaxy Dark Matter Density Profiles Inferred from Stellar and Gas Kinematics
Adams, Simon, Fabricius, van den Bosch, Barentine, Bender, Gebhardt, Hill, Murphy, Swaters, Thomas, and van de Ven (2014)
The Mice at play in the CALIFA survey. A case study of a gas-rich major merger between first passage and coalescence
Wild, Rosales-Ortega, Falcón-Barroso, García-Benito, Gallazzi, González Delgado, Bekeraité, Pasquali, Johansson, García Lorenzo, van de Ven, Pawlik, Peréz, Monreal-Ibero, Lyubenova, Cid Fernandes, Méndez-Abreu, Barrera-Ballesteros, Kehrig, Iglesias-Páramo, et al. (2014)
Circumnuclear Molecular Gas in Megamaser Disk Galaxies NGC 4388 and NGC 1194
Greene, Seth, Lyubenova, Walsh, van de Ven, and Läsker (2014)
Reconstructing the Stellar Mass Distributions of Galaxies Using S4G IRAC 3.6 and 4.5 μm Images. II. The Conversion from Light to Mass
Meidt, Schinnerer, van de Ven, Zaritsky, Peletier, Knapen, Sheth, Regan, Querejeta, Muñoz-Mateos, Kim, Hinz, Gil de Paz, Athanassoula, Bosma, Buta, Cisternas, Ho, Holwerda, Skibba, et al. (2014)
Virgo Cluster and field dwarf ellipticals in 3D - II. Internal dynamics points to tidal harassment?
Ryś, van de Ven, and Falcón-Barroso (2014)
Local Group and Star Cluster Dynamics from HSTPROMO: The Hubble Space Telescope Proper Motion Collaboration
van der Marel, Anderson, Bellini, Besla, Bianchini, Boylan-Kolchin, Chaname, Deason, Do, Guhathakurta, Kallivayalil, Lennon, Massari, Meyer, Platais, Sabbi, Sohn, Soto, Trenti, and Watkins, et al. (2014)
The central mass and mass-to-light profile of the Galactic globular cluster M15
den Brok, van de Ven, van den Bosch, and Watkins (2014)
The Galactic rotation curve from red clump stars
Liu, van de Ven, Fang, Wu, Carrell, and Xue (2014)
The 3-D extinction law in the 2nd quadrant of the Galactic disk
Liu, Fang, Wu, Carrell, Xue, and van de Ven (2014)

Positions & Projects

PostDoc and PhD positions

The MPIA on a regular basis is accepting applications for a number of positions within the Galaxies and Cosmology department, including positions in our group. Please see this site for Postdoc and this site for PhD positions and for more information on how to apply.

MSc and BSc students

Various aspects of the research projects below, and of the research in our group in general, are well-suited for a bachelor or master project in astronomy, physics or computer science.

Follow the links for a brief description per project, but please contact any member of the group or send an e-mail to for further information and other projects and topics related to the research in our group.


Lensing and dynamics
Lensing and dynamics
Gravitational lensing is the deflection of light from distant sources by the gravitational fields of intervening objects, while kinematics are the motions of stars or gas in the gravitational potential of an object. This means that both luminous tracers are sensitive to the total mass distribution, including possible dark matter, which can be recovered after subtracting the luminous matter.

The main goal of the project is to arrive an efficient method to fit lens and dynamical models -- individually as well as combined -- to the upcoming abundant gravitational lensing and kinematic data-sets. The method will enable robust and unbiased measurements of the total (including dark) matter density in galaxies at different redshifts, which in turn will provide important constraints on galaxy formation as well as cosmological models.
Shape of dark matter halos
Shape of dark matter halos
The concordance cold dark matter cosmological model predicts that galaxies are embedded in extended dark matter halos with a close to universal density distribution. While many studies have focused on the radial profile and in particular the predicted inner cusp, very few have considered the predicted triaxial shape of the dark matter density. Although dark matter itself is invisible, its mass affects the kinematics of luminous tracers; in particular, the triaxial shape is expected to cause non-circular motions in the observed gas velocity fields.

The main goal of this project is to investigate these effects of triaxiality and use non-circular motions observed in gas velocity fields of galaxies to constrain the shape of their dark matter halo.
Made-to-measure N-body method
Made-to-measure N-body method
The made-to-measure N-body method (hereafter M2M) introduced by Syer & Tremaine (1996) is closely related to Schwarzschild's orbit-superposition approach. Whereas in Schwarzschild's approach orbits are first integrated and then superimposed, in the M2M method these two steps are merged: trajectories are integrated and then particle weights adapted at the same time until some constraints are satisfied, such as an optimal fit to observational data. The advantage of the M2M method is that not only the particle weights can be adjusted, but also the particle distribution as a whole might evolve. This enables one to investigate stability and to efficiently adapt mass distributions which can be asymmetric and contain rotating components.

The main goal of the project is to complement our orbit-based modeling tools with the M2M particle-based method, and use the additional flexibility to also investigate galaxies such as the Milky Way with a rotating bar and a warped outer disk.
Stars around black holes
Stars around black holes
Since all large galaxies are believed to contain a central black hole (BH), these BHs are expected to undergo merging along with the galaxies themselves. Dynamical modeling tools such as our triaxial implementation of Schwarzschild's orbit superposition method, not only allows the measurement of the mass of such (merged) BHs, but also of the surrounding orbital structure. Aside from the large galaxies, we can also fit such dynamical models to kinematic measurements in dwarf galaxies and even globular clusters to establish whether they also contain a central (intermediate-mass) BH.

The main goal of this project is to use these studies to help understand the important scaling relation between BH masses and the host galaxy properties, from the high-mass to low-mass end.
Feeding the centers of galaxies
Feeding the centers of galaxies
A still open question is how the gas, that is needed to feed a central black hole and create an active galactic nucleus (AGN), is brought in from larger scales. Whereas bars are able to efficiently transport gas from the outer parts of a galaxy inward, the gas typically stalls at a radius well outside the inner hundred parsec. However, the continued dynamical friction may induce non-axisymmetric perturbations, such as nuclear spirals, along which the gas can move further inward. Unfortunately, the resulting deviations in the gas density are typically to weak for direct imaging and the obscuration due to assumed associated dust often leads to unclear or even missed detections. At the same time, the perturbations induce significant non-circular motions in the gas, so that velocity fields provide a cleaner way to detect the perturbations and even constrain the gas inflow velocity.

The main goal of the project is to use gas velocity fields of (spiral) galaxies to quantify mass inflow rate from larger scales down to the central black hole.
Close encounters in dense environments
Close encounters in dense environments
Shocks are present wherever matter is accelerated past the sound speed of the medium they are propagating through. A class of astrophysical shocks that is relatively simple to interpret are the so-called "Balmer-dominated shocks traditionally observed as limb-brightened optical fillaments around historical supernova remnants. The are characterized by strong hydrogen emission lines with a narrow (~10 km/s) and broad (~1000 km/s) component. By measuring the broad-line width and broad-to-narrow line intensity, we can constrain the shock velocity and electron-to-proton temperature immediately behind the shock front. Next, combining these measurements with the sometimes coincident non-thermal (X-ray and radio) emission observed, provides a rare opportunity to study cosmic ray accelaration in partially-neutral media. Moreover, we can constrain the geometry of the ambient magnetic field by measuring non-Gaussian components in the broad line caused by pick-up protons. Clearly, these measurements require high-quality spectroscopy of the narrow and curved shock fronts which moreover might overlap each other in projection along the line-of-sight.

The main goal of the project is to use the unqiue capability of high-spatial resolution intergral-field spectrographs to accurately trace and isolate shocks, allowing a careful analysis of shocks and their ambient medium.